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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, into the ninth installment of Barrayar, the second book in the Vorkosigan series chronologically.  This week, chapters Seventeen and Eighteen bring the whole story to a head.  (Heh.)  No, seriously, this totally encompasses the climax of the book–this is the good stuff, right here.

Chapter Seventeen

They take Lady Alys, Bothari carrying her, to a three-storey building in the caravanserai, against Koudelka’s protests; Cordelia quickly determines that this is the brothel from Bothari and Koudelka’s previous adventure, though Koudelka tells Drou that it’s a historic building turned into “a kind of inn”.  Inside, a woman leads them to a room on the top floor, and at Bothari’s insistence, changes the sheets before he lays Alys down there.  Drou stays with Alys while she sleeps, while Koudelka goes to look for food, and Bothari and Cordelia sit at a table in the hall.

Bothari asks if they have prostitutes on Beta Colony, and Cordelia tells him about their Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapists, government-licensed psychotherapists who do teaching as well as sex.  Bothari says that his mother was a whore, which Cordelia had already guessed, but adds that she used to sell him to her customers.  He ran away at age twelve, and ran with the gangs for four years until he was able to lie his way into the military.  Being a bastard on Barrayar is almost as bad as being a mutant, he says; Cordelia says that on Beta they barely even have a term for it.

When Koudelka returns with food and beer, Cordelia says that they have to change their strategy.  She says that they can’t take Lady Vorpatril with them, and they should get her out of the city before they realize that she’s probably not pregnant any more.  Cordelia needs to go because she’s in charge, Drou knows the way in, and Bothari is their muscle.  That leaves Koudelka to take Alys and Ivan out of the city.  Koudelka protests that it feels like he’s retreating, but Cordelia says that Alys and Ivan need his cleverness to get them out of the city.

Bothari goes to look for discarded clothing for Koudelka’s new role while Koudelka takes food in to Alys and Drou.  Koudelka says that he knows why Drou was so worried about being pregnant.  Cordelia says that things are not right between him and Drou yet, and says she wishes she’d been able to straighten things out between herself and Aral before she left.

She meditated a bit. “What have you tried besides ‘I’m sorry’? How about, ‘How do you feel? Are you all right? Can I help? I love you,’ there’s a classic. Words of one syllable. Mostly questions, now I think on it. Shows an interest in starting a conversation, y’know?”

He smiled sadly. “I don’t think she wants to talk to me anymore.”

Cordelia asks what he would have done if they hadn’t been interrupted by the soltoxin grenade attack.  Koudelka says he’d have arranged for a go-between, who arranges things with the parents, and then he’d just have to show up at the wedding.  But he doesn’t think that her parents would have approved of him, crippled as he is.

 “A go-between. Huh.” She stood up.

“Where are you going?” he asked nervously.

“Between,” she said firmly. She marched down the hall to Lady Vorpatril’s door, and stuck her head in.

Drou is in a brown study, and when Cordelia asks, she says that it’s about the man she killed earlier.  She blames herself and her hesitation for Lord Padma’s death, when Bothari didn’t hesitate.  Cordelia asks her if she really wants to be a monster like Bothari (though he’s her monster, she admits).  She says that no military or police force should be made up entirely of psychopathic killers; there should always be someone to question evil orders.  Cordelia tells Drou she’s going to send Koudelka out with the Vorpatrils, since, bewildering as it is to her, Vordarian will still consider the infant Lord Vorpatril a threat.

Cordelia asks Drou if she still loves Koudelka, even though she now knows most of his flaws, though he does have a promising future ahead of him if they get out of this alive.  Drou says that since she lost her virginity to him, she’s bound to him anyway, but Cordelia points that out that after this raid, she’ll be a hero and have men lining up for her hand.  Drou admits she’s afraid Koudelka will hurt her again; Cordelia says that she and Aral hurt each other, that she hurt him badly by going on this mission against his wishes, but avoiding pain is not a good enough reason to choose not to do something.

“I’m not sure I follow that, Milady. But . . . I have a picture, in my head. Of me and Kou, on a beach, all alone. It’s so warm. And when he looks at me, he sees me, really sees me, and loves me. . . .”

Cordelia pursed her lips. “Yeah . . . that’ll do. Come with me.”

She leads Drou to the sofa at the end of the hall, sitting her down with Koudelka at the other end.  She says that she will translate between the two of them, since they speak different languages.

Kou made an embarrassed negative motion over Cordelia’s head.

“That hand signal means, I’d rather blow up the rest of my life than look like a fool for five minutes. Ignore it,” Cordelia said. “Now, let me see. Who begins?”

There was a short silence. “Did I mention I’m also playing the parts of both your parents? I think I shall begin by being Kou’s Ma. Well, son, and have you met any nice girls yet? You’re almost twenty-six, you know. I saw that vid,” she added in her own voice as Kou choked. “I have her style, eh? And her content. And Kou says, Yes, Ma, there’s this gorgeous girl. Young, tall, smart—and Kou’s Ma says, Tee hee! And hires me, your friendly neighborhood go-between. And I go to your father, Drou, and say, there’s this young man. Imperial lieutenant, personal secretary to the Lord Regent, war hero, slated for the inside track at Imperial HQ—and he says, Say no more! We’ll take him. Tee-hee. And—”

Koudelka protests that her parents will have more to say than that, and Cordelia interprets this as referring to his disability.  She tells him that a wise father, when presented with his daughter’s choice of husband, will just go along and say “Yes, dear,” if he knows what’s good for him.  Her brothers may be harder to convince, but since Drou hasn’t complained to them yet, he has a chance.

“I said I was sorry,” said Kou, sounding stung.

Drou stiffened. “Yes. Repeatedly,” she said coldly.

“And there we come to the heart of the matter,” Cordelia said slowly, seriously. “What Kou actually means, Drou, is that he isn’t a bit sorry. The moment was wonderful, you were wonderful, and he wants to do it again. And again and again, with nobody but you, forever, socially approved and uninterrupted. Is that right, Kou?”

Kou looked stunned. “Well—yes!”

Drou blinked. “But . . . that’s what I wanted you to say!”

“It was?” He peered over Cordelia’s head.

Cordelia points out that they still some time before they have to leave, possibly enough to finish working things out, in words of one syllable.

Comments

Holy crow, Cordelia’s “baba” scene there, as I think of it (though admittedly, the term “baba” is never used in this chapter, and possibly not even in the entire book–I guess I think of it from later books, like A Civil Campaign, or is it only Warrior’s Apprentice?) is so awesome I had to restrain myself from quoting the entire thing.  Not very well, as you can see.  Anyway, looking to the future, I’d have to say that Kou and Drou do have a bright one ahead of them, especially considering the kinds of matches their daughters make for themselves down the line.  Practically one from every estate.  But anyway…  Sometimes it seems that every pair of characters needs a Cordelia to sit down between them and clear up all the misunderstandings, secrets and conflicts between them.  Or maybe that’s just the Wheel of Time books, whose characters have finally, as of Book 13 in the series, began to actually talk and tell each other things.

Something that bothered me when I was reading this, though.  Initially Drou was to stay by Lady Alys’s bedside while she slept, so that she wouldn’t be too disoriented at awakening in a strange place.  (Though how well does Alys know Drou, anyway?  As a former bodyguard to Princess Kareen, given to Cordelia…  At least she would be familiar from the rescue, if nothing else, I suppose.)  Lady Alys seems to be still asleep when Cordelia has her conversation with Drou before fetching her to have the baba scene with Kou…so why are they no longer worried about her waking up to find herself alone in a strange place?  Never crosses either of their minds at that point.  I’ll call it an authorial oversight, though one presumes that Cordelia does take her place there immediately after the end of the chapter.

Also, where do Kou and Drou go off to spend their little bit of personal time?  Do they have to rent a room?  I seem to have missed on all my previous reads the little bit that said that the couch where they were talking was at the end of the hallway, not in another room, so I suspect that couch would still be a little public for them…  They must have rooms with real beds for all of them somewhere.  Do they have much money on them, or is Bothari’s credit good?

Chapter Eighteen

Koudelka, Alys and baby Ivan prepare to leave the brothel just before dawn, dressed in sober and inconspicuous clothes.  Koudelka gives Drou his sword-cane, since it looks far too good quality to match their disguise.  Cordelia asks if there’s any risk of being robbed, and Bothari says that Vordarian’s troops have been conscripting a lot of the normal gang members and having them dig bomb shelters, supposedly to protect against Aral.  They part with few words, Koudelka giving Drou one last salute.

Cordelia, Bothari and Drou head for a tall commercial building, then down to its sub-basement.  Drou breaks into a utility tunnel, well-lit and obviously in use, then opens an access hatch.  Cordelia drops into a storm sewer, cold water to her ankles, and Drou and Bothari follow.  From there, they find a smaller, brick-lined tunnel where they have to shuffle hunched over.  Drou begins to tap on the ceiling, and eventually finds a hatch whose catch she triggers with Koudelka’s sword blade.  They emerge into a darkened chamber which Drou says is the old stables, burned down and levelled decades ago; Ezar planted a garden over top, just north of the Residence proper.  Ezar and Negri planned this escape route between them.

Drou finds a cache of boxes left for Ezar, with clothes, weapons and money, some of the clothes apparently meant for Kareen and Gregor.  Drou and Cordelia put on clean dresses and get stunners; Bothari unpacks his black fatigues and gets a stunner, a plasma arc, and a nerve disrupter.  Cordelia also takes the sword-cane, and Gregor’s shoe, out of their satchel.  Drou then leads them into a narrow passage with a ladder going into an even narrower squeeze between two walls.  Cordelia extinguishes her handlight and Drou opens the panel, which leads into the Emperor’s bedchamber.

It is not empty, though; the bed is occupied by Vordarian, with Kareen huddled into one corner of the mattress.  They retreat back down the ladder, where Drou is crying with disappointment in her former mistress.  Cordelia points out that Kareen didn’t have much of an option, or a power base with which to resist, and her posture in the bed seemed to indicate that she wasn’t a willing partner.  The second exit from the tunnel will be more dangerous, and Cordelia considers turning back, but instead gives them the go-ahead.  This time they exit into Ezar’s private office, still unused, its comconsole disconnected.

Cordelia, conscious of the conspicuousness of wearing the cane like a sword, puts it on a tray and carries it like a servant instead as they leave the room.  They pass a soldier who salutes to Bothari, and Cordelia hopes that his suspicions are allayed by the fact that the two women seem to be under guard.  They climb a flight of stairs to the level where the replicator is being stored.  There is a guard outside; as they pass by, Bothari salutes him, which turns into a punch that knocks his head back against the wall and leaves him unconscious.  Bothari takes his place outside and Drou and Cordelia drag the guard into the room.

The replicator sits on a table in the centre of the room.  Cordelia is about to pick it up when she notices something wrong, and double-checks the readouts.  The replicator is empty…  In desperation, Cordelia checks the serial number, and discovers that it’s not the same one Miles was in.  She discovers a pressure sensor on the table underneath the replicator, no doubt linked to some alarm.  Cordelia decides they’ll have to retreat, and hope to catch Vordarian unawares and squeeze Miles’s replicator’s location out of him.

Just then, there is noise outside in the corridor, and stunner fire, and Bothari ducks inside.  Drou and Bothari are willing to die to protect Cordelia, but she doesn’t see the point, and proposes surrender instead.  They give up their weapons as the guards come inside; one of them finds the shoe in Cordelia’s pocket and sets it on the table.  Cordelia hopes that she will get to see Kareen, however briefly, to seal Vordarian’s fate.  The guards keep them there until Vordarian arrives, with Kareen in tow.

Vordarian exults at the success of his trap, though the guards warn him that they didn’t have the chance to herd them in from the perimeter, they’d just appeared out of nowhere.  Vordarian says they just need to fast-penta Drou to find out how.

“What have you done with my son, Vordarian?”

Vordarian said through his teeth, “An outworlder frill will never gain power on Barrayar by scheming to give a mutant the Imperium. That, I guarantee.”

“Is that the official line, now? I don’t want power. I just object to idiots having power over me.”

Behind Vordarian, Kareen’s lips quirked sadly. Yes, listen to me, Kareen!

Kareen tells them that Vordarian is the Emperor now, if he can keep it, and Vordarian says that he has as good a claim than Aral, and that he will “preserve and protect” the true Barrayar.  Cordelia gives Kareen the shoe, which puzzles Vordarian, who is already planning their interrogations.

“Kareen,” said Cordelia softly, “where is my son?”

“The replicator is on a shelf in the oak wardrobe, in the old Emperor’s bedchamber,” Kareen replied steadily, locking her eyes to Cordelia’s. “Where is mine?”

Cordelia’s heart melted in gratitude for her curse, live pain. “Safe and well, when I last saw him, as long as this pretender,” she jerked her head at Vordarian, “doesn’t find out where. Gregor misses you. He sends his love.” Her words might have been spikes, pounded into Kareen’s body.

That got Vordarian’s attention. “Gregor is at the bottom of a lake, killed in the flyer crash with that traitor Negri,” he said roughly. “The most insidious lie is the one you want to hear. Guard yourself, my lady Kareen. I could not save him, but I will avenge him. I promise you that.”

Kareen points out that the shoe hasn’t been immersed; Vordarian reassures her that she can have another son someday, but Kareen grabs a nerve disrupter and fires at Vordarian.  One guard knocks her arm aside, spoiling her shot, and another reflexively shoots her with his own nerve disrupter; Vordarian seizes a disrupter and shoots him.

The room tilted around her. Cordelia’s hand locked around the hilt of the swordstick and triggered its sheath flying into the head of one guard, then brought the blade smartly down across Vordarian’s weapon-wrist. He screamed, and blood and the nerve disruptor flew wide. Droushnakovi was already diving for the first discarded nerve disruptor. Bothari just took his target out with one lethal hand-blow to the neck. Cordelia slammed the door shut against the guards in the corridor, surging forward. A stunner charge buzzed into the walls, then three blue bolts in rapid succession from Droushnakovi took out the last of Vordarian’s men.

“Grab him,” Cordelia yelled to Bothari. Vordarian, shaking, his left hand clamped around his half-severed right wrist, was in poor condition to resist, though he kicked and shouted. His blood ran the color of Kareen’s robe. Bothari locked Vordarian’s head in a firm grip, nerve disruptor pressed to his skull.

They head back out into the corridor, Vordarian’s guards backing off at the sight of their lord held hostage.  At Bothari’s urging, and over Drou’s protests, Cordelia takes the plasma arc and begins setting fire to the hallway behind them, thinking of it as a funeral pyre for Kareen.  They reach the Emperor’s bedchamber and Cordelia sets the corridor burning in the other direction as well.  Inside the chamber, she finds the uterine replicator where Kareen had said it would be, and confirms that this one is occupied.

Vordarian begins to argue for them to release him, pointing out that his guards will stun them all.  If they let him go, he’ll let them live, even Miles.  He said that he never meant for Evon Vorhalas to damage Vorkosigan’s heir, it was only Aral himself that was too dangerous.

“We’d never proved you were behind Evon Vorhalas,” Cordelia said quietly. “Thank you for the information.”

That shut him up, for a moment. His eyes shifted uneasily to the door, soon to burst inward, ignited by the inferno behind it.

“Dead, I’m no use to you as a hostage,” he said, drawing himself up in dignity.

“You’re no use to me at all, Emperor Vidal,” said Cordelia frankly. “There are at least five thousand casualties in this war so far. Now that Kareen is dead, how long will you keep fighting?”

“Forever,” he snarled whitely. “I will avenge her—avenge them all—”

Wrong answer, Cordelia thought, with a curious light-headed sadness. “Bothari.” He was at her side instantly. “Pick up that sword.” He did so. She set the replicator on the floor and laid her hand briefly atop his, wrapped around the hilt. “Bothari, execute this man for me, please.” Her tone sounded weirdly serene in her own ears, as if she’d just asked Bothari to pass the butter. Murder didn’t really require hysterics.

“Yes, Milady,” Bothari intoned, and lifted the blade. His eyes gleamed with joy.

“What?” yelped Vordarian in astonishment. “You’re a Betan! You can’t do—”

The flashing stroke cut off his words, his head, and his life.

Bothari screams and falls to his knees, dropping the sword; Cordelia realizes he must be reliving the suppressed memory of the murder of Admiral Vorrutyer.  Drou says that the door is getting hot, and they have to leave.  Cordelia finds a drawstring plastic bag, which she puts Vordarian’s head into.  She orders Drou to take the replicator (she picks up the swordstick of her own accord), and coaxes Bothari to his feet and down the ladder after Drou.  She pushes Bothari ahead of her into the cellar, where they pause for a rest.

“Is he all right?” Droushnakovi asked nervously, as Bothari sat down with his head between his knees.

“He has a headache,” said Cordelia. “It may take a while to pass off.”

Droushnakovi asked even more diffidently, “Are you all right, Milady?”

Cordelia couldn’t help it; she laughed. She choked down the hysteria as Drou began to look really scared. “No.”

Comments

Once again, Bujold tries to keep from making her villain too incompetent; he had a plan, if someone tried to break in and go after the replicator, for the guards to stay out of their way and shepherd them towards the fake…but just in case, he also had a pressure sensor underneath it.  And yet, it’s only the fact that somebody went looking for the guard that Bothari knocked out that had them detected.

It’s interesting to see the progression of the chaos after Kareen’s attempt on Vordarian’s life.  I left out some of the details, but essentially, there are four guards who come into the room to hold Cordelia, Bothari and Drou captive.  Then Vordarian and Kareen join them.  Kareen takes one guard’s nerve disrupter and tries to shoot Vordarian; that guard knocks her arm out of the way.  The guard commander shoots Kareen, then throws away his weapon; Vordarian takes a third guard’s disrupter and shoots the commander with it.  Vordarian was in his bedclothes, so he didn’t have his own weapon, and Bothari’s were thrown out of the room when they surrendered.  That leaves only one guard with a nerve disrupter (plus Vordarian), which is when our captives move into action.  Neatly done and plotted.

The cover of at least one edition of the book is an extreme closeup of the scene–two hands, one male, one female, on the curved handle of the sword-cane.  Intriguing, if you don’t know what it means; once it does, it’s evocative of the climactic scene of the book, in this chapter.  And it’s intensely satisfying, as Cordelia finds, disquietingly.  So many books, the good guys continue being good and don’t do anything to do the bad guy except give them to the authorities, or let them get taken care of by other evil people.  The distinction between revenge and justice can be hard to determine, sometimes, especially since revenge is more visceral, possibly hardwired in, if the evolutionary psychologists have anything to say about it.  A lot of socialization is occupied in teaching people the concept that “he started it” is not an excuse for doing something back to him, and still it happens, and it’s oh-so-satisfying when it does.  When revenge and justice happen to intersect, it’s too much to resist.


And that’s it for another installment.  Three more chapters to go in Barrayar, with the TV season starting up.  It’s just possible that I may manage two more for next week, and leave my one-chapter week for the week after, when there’s a whole whack of shows I want to watch.  And then a week off in between books before I start on the first real Miles book, The Warrior’s Apprentice.  We’ll see how well I can keep to a two-chapter schedule after that…

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Welcome back to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I summarize and comment on various works of Lois McMaster Bujold in her saga of the Vorkosigans.  This week, I take you through two more chapters of Barrayar, by some reckonings the second book in the series.  This isn’t exactly the “Good Parts” Version, since quite frankly they’re almost all good parts, or at least they are when you can read Ms. Bujold’s own prose as opposed to my own hamhanded synopses, where I often sacrifice well-crafted prose for whatever I can toss off quickly.

Now let’s get on with it!  I mean it!  (Anybody want a peanut?)

Chapter Thirteen

Hours later, they meet up with Kly and his horse, who says that he narrowly avoided getting taken at a house he was delivering mail to.  Apparently Vordarian’s men are using fast-penta to interrogate everyone they can find in the hills.  He’d sent his niece’s husband to try to fetch them, but found Vordarian’s men already at his house.  He was encouraged, though, when they continued searching.  He offers to put Gregor on his horse, but Bothari says Cordelia needs the rest more, and she discovers that he’s right.  Bothari brings Kly up to date, and Kly particularly appreciates getting the soldiers lost in the cave; Bothari tells him that it was Cordelia’s idea, and Cordelia says she was just trying to use up some of Vordarian’s finite resources.

Kly takes them to his niece Sonia’s house, which he says has already been searched; Vordarian’s men aren’t done enough to recheck yet, and they’re still searching the lake as well.  Bothari’s feet are in awful shape under his boots, and Cordelia and Gregor’s shoes are mostly destroyed.  Exhausted, Cordelia lets herself be fed and put to bed.

The next morning, a ten-year-old boy appears leading Kly’s other horse; Kly says that the boy only knows that the mailman needs his remount, and Cordelia is horrified that they would have used fast-penta on him.  Kly says that they’re desperate to find Gregor, that Vordarian’s whole coup can collapse if he doesn’t.  Kly says he has to keep to his schedule, so that Count Piotr can contact him, and he warns them to stay inside and out of sight.

They spend four days with Sonia and her husband, doing very little.  Cordelia has one bath, and regrets it because the couple, somewhat elderly themselves, have to haul and heat the wood themselves.  The couple are laconic, so conversation amounts to little.  Sonia brings in trickles of outside news, that Hassadar is mostly closed but a few manage to escape, that the lake search has been nearly abandoned, that most of Piotr’s armsmen’s hostages have escaped, and that for some reason Karla Hysopi was taken as well.

Cordelia froze. “Did they take the baby, too?”

“Baby? Donnia didn’t say about a baby. Grandchild, was it?”

Bothari was sitting by the window sharpening his knife on Sonia’s kitchen whetstone. His hand paused in mid-stroke. He looked up to meet Cordelia’s alarmed eyes. Beyond a tightening of his jaw his face did not change expression, yet the sudden increase of tension in his body made Cordelia’s stomach knot. He looked back down at what he was doing, and took a longer, firmer stroke that hissed along the whetstone like water on coals.

“Maybe . . . Kly will know something more, when he comes back,” Cordelia quavered.

“Belike,” said Sonia doubtfully.

When Kly does return, he brings Armsman Esterhazy with him, in hillman disguise.  He tells them that Aral and Piotr want to keep Gregor in the mountains, since Vordarian is apparently beginning to think that Gregor isn’t there at all.  They’ve also given up on finding Cordelia in the caves, and as soon as they finish finding all the lost soldiers, they’ll pull out.  Kly tells Gregor that he’s going to pretend that Esterhazy is his father, and that he has a new name.  Gregor is doubtful when he hears that Cordelia isn’t coming with him, but Kly tells him that there are goats, and he doesn’t complain further.  Esterhazy and Gregor set out the next morning.

Cordelia said anxiously, “Take care of him, Armsman.”

Esterhazy gave her a driven look. “He’s my Emperor, Milady. He holds my oath.”

“He’s also a little boy, Armsman. Emperor is . . . a delusion you all have in your heads. Take care of the Emperor for Piotr, yes, but you take care of Gregor for me, eh?”

Esterhazy met her eyes. His voice softened. “My little boy is four, Milady.”

He did understand, then. Cordelia swallowed relief and grief.

Cordelia asks Kly, while Bothari is out of earshot, about Karla Hysopi.  Kly tells her that they were looking for the baby, and took Mrs. Hysopi when she protested.  He says that Esterhazy told Bothari the night before.

Three more days pass while Kly’s nephew leads Cordelia and Bothari through the mountains, until they reach a man with a rickety lightflyer loaded with maple syrup.  He flies them to a market town, where he barters his syrup for supplies, and then trades Cordelia and Bothari to a groundtruck loaded with cabbages.  Hours later the truck drops them off near a kilometer marker.  Finally, in the night, a lightflyer comes down to pick them up, which proves to contain Kou and Drou.  As they take off, Cordelia notices an escort of military flyers shadowing them.

Cordelia is happy to see them, though she quickly discerns that they have not yet resolved their personal issues.  They tell her that the guard corporal was interrogated with fast-penta and confessed to sabotaging the comconsole, as well as passing information to Vordarian that made the sonic grenade attack possible, though he knew nothing about the soltoxin.  Illyan hasn’t managed to get out the capital yet; Cordelia starts to tell them about Gregor, but Koudelka stops her and says that she’s not supposed to tell anyone except Aral and Piotr about him.  She asks about the baby, and Drou says that they’ve heard nothing one way or the other; he hasn’t been listed on Vordarian’s lists of hostages.

According to Koudelka, the overall situation is that Vordarian has five Counts who are staunch supporters, and about thirty more who may be nothing more than his captives; most of the rest have reaffirmed their allegiance to the Regent.  The space forces, who receive half their supplies from Vordarian’s shuttleports, have refused to commit one way or the other.  He says that Aral’s opinion is that Vordarian lost the moment he let Gregor get away, but he still holds Princess Kareen.

They land at a military base, and are escorted to an underground bunker which makes Cordelia homesick for Beta Colony’s better-decorated tunnels.  She is brought to Aral, and they embrace fiercely.  He tells her to go to sickbay as soon as she can; Bothari wants to report in to the Count, but Aral says the Count is on a diplomatic mission and Bothari should report to him instead.

“Bothari was amazing,” Cordelia confided to Aral. “No—that’s unjust. Bothari was Bothari, and I shouldn’t have been amazed at all. We wouldn’t have made it without him.”

Aral nodded, smiling a little. “I thought he would do for you.”

“He did indeed.”

Aral asks if Cordelia has heard the situation, and she asks for more details.  Aral says that the Vorpatrils have not yet been captured, but haven’t escaped either, so are probably also still hiding out in the capital.  He says that they can get a lot of data from Vordarian’s side, but wonders if their own side is as porous, since everyone seems to have friends and family on the other side.

A man comes looking for Aral, bringing him a Colonel Gerould to report in.  Aral sends Cordelia off with Drou to get whatever she needs.  As she is leaving, she hears Aral berating the Colonel for tying a ribbon to his arm, to help distinguish their man from Vordarian’s; Aral says that Vordarian is the traitor and should be the one to use a different uniform.

At the infirmary, Cordelia has some difficulty making the doctor understand her situation, since they have no access to her medical records.  She tries to explain the placental transfer operation, then gives up.

“I gave birth by surgical section. It did not go well.”

“I see. Five weeks post-partum.” He made a note. “And what is your present complaint?”

I don’t like Barrayar, I want to go home, my father-in-law wants to murder my baby, half my friends are running for their lives, and I can’t get ten minutes alone with my husband, whom you people are consuming before my eyes, my feet hurt, my head hurts, my soul hurts . . . it was all too complicated. The poor man just wanted something to put in his blank, not an essay. “Fatigue,” Cordelia managed at last.

“Ah.” He brightened, and entered this factoid on his report panel. “Post-partum fatigue. This is normal.” He looked up and regarded her earnestly. “Have you considered starting an exercise program, Lady Vorkosigan?”

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So if “fast-penta” is a verb, what is its past tense?  “fast-pentaed”?  “fast-penta’d”?  “fast-penta’ed”?  Yeah, I don’t know either, so I tried to arrange my sentences not to include it.  Doesn’t English have any other verbs ending in “a”, whose past tense is commonly use in writing?  The only ones I could think of offhand were Spanish imports like “rhumba” and “samba”.

Anyway, Cordelia finally manages to return to civilization and familiar characters, and more importantly, find out more about what’s going on, so there’s that.  Bujold went to enough effort that I am convinced that they legitimately managed to escape from Vordarian’s searchers without having to suspend my disbelief too far, I do admit.  Though now I’m wondering about how well Esterhazy and Gregor’s masquerade is going to work if they do get…uh, if someone fast-pentas them.  I guess they can hide somewhere they’ve already searched, but still…

Also, Vordarian did turn out to be behind at least the sonic grenade attack, if not necessarily the soltoxin.  Was he just trying to frame the Cetagandans, or was this deliberate misinformation planted by a suborned ImpSec man?  Or something in between, like laziness and a readiness to believe them the source of all sinister plots?

Apparently, in the last installment, I misidentified the cabin that they were staying at at the end there as Klyeuvi’s niece’s, which in fact it was Klyeuvi’s own shack.  I apologize for the confusion, but at least nobody pointed it out.  I’m going to leave it up for now, though, like my earlier goof about the identity of the guy who shot whatshisname with the nerve disrupter in the first chapters of Shards of Honour.

Another doctor without a name, but since his only role here is to be clueless comic relief, I guess that’s all right.  (In the next chapter it turns out that one of Aral’s major motivations for sending Cordelia to the doctor was to get her cleared for sex.  Heh.)

Chapter Fourteen

Over a rare dinner alone with her husband, Cordelia asks who exactly Vordarian’s troops are.  Aral explains that most of them are soldiers whose commanding officers chose Vordarian’s side, who haven’t mustered the courage to desert their units, which their training makes them unlikely to do in any case.  He says that it’s only treason if they lose anyway, and as long as he and Gregor remain alive, Vordarian cannot win.  Cordelia asks why he doesn’t just bring Gregor out now, and Aral says he wants to woo more of Vordarian’s troops away from him first.  Vordarian doesn’t seem to be making much progress, going for strategic military points rather than trying to win over the minds of the people.  Aral wishes that he could have Kanzian, an experienced space commander who is still unaccounted for.  He says he’s considered moving his base into space, one reason he wanted to hold the shuttleport, but he feels it could be interpreted as a retreat.

Cordelia asks about hostages, thinking about baby Miles; Aral says that Vorbarr Sultana itself is a type of hostage, since Vordarian could threaten to destroy it.  They have discussed the possibility of rescue raids, but the time is not ripe, so they’d rather sacrifice them instead.

“Even Kareen?” All the hostages? Even the tiniest?

“Even Kareen. She is Vor. She understands.”

“The surest proof I am not Vor,” said Cordelia glumly. “I don’t understand any of this . . . stylized madness. I think you should all be in therapy, every last one of you.”

He smiled slightly. “Do you think Beta Colony could be persuaded to send us a battalion of psychiatrists as humanitarian aid? The one you had that last argument with, perhaps?”

Cordelia snorted. Well, Barrayaran history did have a sort of weird dramatic beauty, in the abstract, at a distance. A passion play. It was close-up that the stupidity of it all became more palpable, dissolving like a mosaic into meaningless squares.

Cordelia asks if they are taking hostages themselves, and Aral says they’re not; they need the moral high ground.  Vordarian is neglecting the “plebes” in favour of the upper class, which is the wrong side, numerically.  Both sides have sufficient raw power, but Aral has right and legitimacy on his side, which Vordarian is trying to undermine with rumours that Aral has disposed of Gregor to seek the throne himself.  He admits that Vordarian could still win, if he gets his hands on Aral and Gregor, but it would likely lead to a long era of instability as people try to seize the throne and take petty revenges.

The next few days, Cordelia explores her new surroundings with Drou.  Bothari spends much of his time exercising, having nothing to do until the Count returns, and having trouble sleeping as well.  She tries to keep up with the news reports on the war, but finds them too depressing.

After three days, Illyan arrives with Kanzian.  Cordelia goes to see the debriefing; Illyan has been hiding out in the capital much as Cordelia did in the mountains.  Kanzian seems to be confident that he can talk around some of the space commanders, like Admiral Knollys, who’s been avoiding communications with Aral, once he points out how little chance Vordarian has.

Cordelia asks Illyan if he’s had any news of her baby, but he hasn’t.  Illyan asks in turn about Negri’s death, which Aral confirms; he does say that Gregor is fine, but doesn’t tell Illyan where.  Aral tells Illyan that after sickbay his job is to start taking apart ImpSec and putting it back together, as its new head.  Captain Illyan is daunted by his new duties, but cannot refuse.

After that, the new arrivals at Tanery Base increase in pace, including Prime Minister Vortala, who escaped from Vordarian’s house arrest.  One day Aral summons her to watch a vid that Vordarian has just broadcast, with Kanzian, Vortala, and other staffers present.  It cuts between Vordarian and Princess Kareen, in the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts.  The Lord Guardian is reading an obviously prepared statement, though subtly distancing himself from it, denouncing Aral for Gregor’s murder and appointing Vordarian as Regent and Prime Minister, though Vortala spots that he doesn’t have a quorum of the Counts.

Aral wants Cordelia to pay attention to Kareen, though, as Vordarian announces his engagement to the Princess; she remains calm and serene even when displaying the ring.  Aral asks Cordelia if she can tell him anything about Kareen’s state of mind.  Cordelia watches it again and says that she doesn’t look drugged or coerced; likely she is just trying to make the best of her situation.

Cordelia went on, “Vordarian’s been controlling her access to information, surely. She may even be convinced he’s winning. She’s a survivor; she’s survived Serg and Ezar, so far. Maybe she means to survive you and Vordarian both. Maybe the only revenge she thinks she’ll ever get is to live long enough to spit on all your graves.”

One of the staff officers muttered, “But she’s Vor. She should have defied him.”

Cordelia favored him with a glittery grin. “Oh, but you never know what any Barrayaran woman thinks by what she says in front of Barrayaran men. Honesty is not exactly rewarded, you know.”

The staffer gave her an unsettled look. Drou smiled sourly. Vorkosigan blew out his breath. Koudelka blinked.

Cordelia continues to wonder about Kareen later, pondering their similarities, as she turns Gregor’s shoe over in her hands.  She is interrupted by a call from Major Sircoj, a duty officer at the entrance, who says a man who has a conditioned sensitivity to fast-penta, so they can’t interrogate him without killing him, has arrived asking to see her.  Cordelia asks if he’s carrying a large metal object, but Sircoj says he has nothing except his clothes, and says his name is Vaagen.  Cordelia says she will see him, though Sircoj protests that it’s not safe.  She and Drou run down to the portal security, collecting herself before asking to see Major Sircoj.  After some negotiation, Sircoj allows her to talk to Vaagen over the vid.

Cordelia is appalled at Vaagen’s condition, and demands that he get medical treatment; Sircoj says he must be cleared first.  Cordelia sends Drou for Aral and gets Sircoj to put her through.  Eventually someone brings Vaagen to a comconsole.  Vaagen says that he and Henri were trying to keep the replicator safe, hiding out in ImpMil, and for a while nobody seemed to know they were there.  The day before, though, Vordarian’s men came for the replicator, beating Henri to death when he tried to deny them.

“Then they ripped into the lab. Everything, all the treatment records. All Henri’s work on burns, gone. They didn’t have to do that. All gone for nothing!” His voice cracked, hoarse with fury.

“Did they . . . find the replicator? Dump it out?” She could see it; she had seen it over and over, spilling. . . .

“They found it, finally. But then they took it. And then let me go.” He shook his head from side to side.

“Took it,” she repeated stupidly. Why? What sense, to take the technology and not the techs? “And let you go. To run to us, I suppose. To give us the word.”

“You have it, Milady.”

“Where, do you suppose? Where did they take it?”

Vorkosigan’s voice spoke beside her. “The Imperial Residence, most likely. All the best hostages are being kept there. I’ll put Intelligence right on it.” He stood, feet planted, grey-faced. “It seems we’re not the only side turning up the pressure.”

Comments

Now the personal stakes for Cordelia are certainly up another notch.  She’s been living in uncertainty, wondering whether or not Miles was safe, and now it’s been confirmed to her that he’s not.  Up goes the tension again, after a chapter mostly spent defusing it (or diffusing it) by showing Aral’s side going up.  I may have skipped over several references in the text to Aral warning that Vordarian will get more desperate as he begins to realize that he’s losing, so it’s not like this wasn’t foreshadowed.  It certainly falls into Bujold’s normal do-the-worst-thing-you-can-to-your-characters methodology.  And, also, her determination to keep her villains from being stupid.

I can’t decide if Bothari is still supposed to be without his meds at this point.  Can he get more from the base pharmacy, or not?  If they don’t have access to Cordelia’s medical records, I suppose they also don’t have Bothari’s, so maybe they can’t take his word for what his prescription is.  Given his ambivalence towards the meds in the first place, I suppose he might not even have brought them up.  So I suspect he’s off his meds and perhaps becoming less stable as a result.  Not that, with Bothari, that’s necessarily a bad thing, if you know how to point him in the right direction when he loses it.


Down to the wire for another installment, but you get two chapters again, lucky you.  Well, good night, see you next week, I’ll probably kill you in the morning.

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Greetings and felicitations, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Today we start on the second book chronologically (if far from the first published) in the series, Barrayar.  Lois McMaster Bujold had a bit of a habit of naming books for planets, or at least political units (Cetaganda and Komarr), but she didn’t go overboard with it, at least.  This book was one of her award-winners, too, Hugo and Locus Awards as Wikipedia tells me, and it definitely deserved it, because it’s a great book.  But don’t just take my word for it–reread it with me!

Chapter One

It is the day after Aral accepted the Regency.  Cordelia, looking out a window in Vorkosigan House, sees a groundcar pull up and Simon Illyan get out.  Sergeant Bothari comes into the room and tells her that it’s time to go, and she follows him out of the room.

She must learn her way around this great pile of a residence as soon as possible. Embarrassing, to be lost in one’s own home, and have to ask some passing guard or servant to de-tangle one. In the middle of the night, wearing only a towel. I used to be a jumpship navigator. Really. If she could handle five dimensions upside, surely she ought to be able to manage a mere three downside.

On the ground floor they find Koudelka waiting.  Cordelia asks after Aral and is told that he is in the library with Illyan, checking on the location for the new secured comconsole.  They emerge shortly thereafter, and Cordelia, Aral, Koudelka and Illyan head out to the groundcar.  The day’s plan is for an audience with Prince Gregor and his mother, Princess Kareen, as well as meeting with Captain Negri.  After that, says Aral, they start setting up the Regency; he’s not sure what old protocol they’ll drag out for the first one in 120 years.

As the armored groundcar pulls away, Cordelia asks about her own duties.  Aral tells her that it’s mostly ceremonies and public-relations work; at Cordelia’s appalled reaction, he says that she can do as much or as little of that as she wishes, particularly now that she’s pregnant.  He says that he would particularly like her to be a liaison with Gregor and Kareen, to help ensure that Gregor doesn’t end up turning out like his father, the late Prince Serg.  He also says that, as a foreigner and a war hero, Cordelia can help unite both the pro-galactic and pro-military factions.  Aral says that he doesn’t want to just gut the opposition parties, either.

“What I want . . . what I want is to find some way of pulling the best men, from every class and language group and party, into the Emperor’s service. The Vor have simply too small a pool of talent. Make the government more like the military at its best, with ability promoted regardless of background. Emperor Ezar tried to do something like that, by strengthening the Ministries at the expense of the Counts, but it swung too far. The Counts are eviscerated and the Ministries are corrupt. There must be some way to strike a balance.”

Cordelia notes the gesture of trust the Emperor placed in Aral by appointing him Regent, but Aral brings her attention to the fact that Captain Negri is still attached to the Princess’s household.  Negri still reports to Aral, but if Aral decides to go for the throne himself, Negri doubtless has orders to dispose of him.  Cordelia assures him that she doesn’t want to be Empress.

As they enter the palace grounds, Illyan says he wishes Aral would reconsider living at Vorkosigan House and move into the Imperial Residence instead, which would make security much easier.  Aral says he prefers Vorkosigan House, especially now that his father the Count spends most of him time at the country estate, Vorkosigan Surleau.  Illyan lists off the security drawbacks of Vorkosigan House, and says that it’ll take at least six full-time patrols to cover them.  Aral asks if he has the men, and Illyan admits he does.  Aral says he will stay at Vorkosigan House, which will serve the purpose of making it seem less likely he’ll pull a palace coup.

And here they were at the very palace in question. As an architectural pile, the Imperial Residence made Vorkosigan House look small. Sprawling wings rose two to four stories high, accented with sporadic towers. Additions of different ages crisscrossed each other to create both vast and intimate courts, some justly proportioned, some rather accidental-looking. The east façade was of the most uniform style, heavy with stone carving. The north side was more cut-up, interlocking with elaborate formal gardens. The west was the oldest, the south the newest construction.

They climb a set of stairs, Koudelka painfully aware that he’s slowing the rest of them down with his awkward pace.  Cordelia wonders why they don’t even have a lift tube.  They meet with Captain Negri, who is with a blonde woman in civilian dress that he introduces merely as “Miss Droushnakovi”.  When Cordelia asks her for more details, Droushnakovi says that she’s a “Servant of the Inner Chamber”, but really a “Bodyguard, Class One” assigned to the Princess.

In the next room they are introduced to the Princess, and to Prince Gregor (who has a talking robotic stegosaurus toy).  Aral formally kneels in front of Gregor and introduces himself, trying to explain what he will be doing as Regent.

“That means I will do your grandfather’s job until you are old enough to do it yourself, when you turn twenty. The next sixteen years. I will look after you and your mother in your grandfather’s place, and see that you get the education and training to do a good job, like your grandfather did. Good government.”

Did the kid even know yet what a government was? Vorkosigan had been careful not to say, in your father’s place, Cordelia noted dryly. Careful not to mention Crown Prince Serg at all. Serg was well on his way to being disappeared from Barrayaran history, it seemed, as thoroughly as he had been vaporized in orbital battle.

Cordelia is impressed by the parental potential that Aral shows with the young heir.  Once Aral is done, Negri asks if he can come down to Ops, and begins to list several issues that need his attention.  Kareen invites Cordelia to stay and visit, and the men go off with Negri; Kareen said that she had hoped to be alone with Cordelia, as Gregor returns to his play.
Droushnakovi asks about Koudelka, and Cordelia explains about the nerve damage and the inadequate repairs done on Barrayar.  Droushnakovi asks if it was in the Escobar war, and Cordelia admits that it was sort of at the beginning of the war.  Kareen asks “Drou” to take Gregor to lunch, and once they are alone, Kareen kisses Cordelia’s hand.

“I swore,” said Kareen thickly, “that I would kiss the hand that slew Ges Vorrutyer. Thank you. Thank you.” Her voice was breathy, earnest, tear-caught, grateful emotion naked in her face. She sat up, her face growing reserved again, and nodded. “Thank you. Bless you.”

“Uh . . .” Cordelia rubbed at the kissed spot. “Um . . . I . . . this honor belongs to another, Milady. I was present, when Admiral Vorrutyer’s throat was cut, but it was not by my hand.”

Kareen thinks at first that it was Aral, but Cordelia says that it was Bothari, which surprises Kareen.  She had thought that Bothari was Vorrutyer’s creature, but Cordelia tells her how he chose to be otherwise.  She takes a chance and mentions Prince Serg, asking if Vorrutyer was responsible for corrupting him; Kareen says that they were like-minded, maybe from the start.  She said that Emperor Ezar protected her from her husband after she became pregnant, and Cordelia hopes that Aral will do as well.

Kareen then orders them tea, and Drou and Gregor return.  Kareen asks her what she thinks of her new home.

Cordelia thought it over. “The country place, south at Vorkosigan Surleau, is just beautiful. That wonderful lake—it’s bigger than any open body of water on the whole of Beta Colony, yet Aral just takes it for granted. Your planet is beautiful beyond measure.” Your planet. Not my planet? In a free-association test, “home” still triggered “Beta Colony” in Cordelia’s mind. Yet she could have rested in Vorkosigan’s arms by the lake forever.

She says that Vorkosigan House is a bit of an all-male barracks when the Count is in residence, not like the mixed barracks on Beta.  Drou likes the sound of men and women both getting to serve in the military, and Cordelia agrees, missing the sister officers that she was used to “back home” on Beta.

That night, after they return home, Illyan brings Droushnakovi to Vorkosigan House, telling Cordelia she’s been assigned to her personal security.

Later, Droushnakovi handed Cordelia a sealed note, on thick cream paper. Brows rising, Cordelia broke it open. The handwriting was small and neat, the signature legible and without flourishes.

With my compliments, it read. She will suit you well. Kareen.

Comments

From now on I will try to refer to her exclusively as “Drou”, as the author does increasingly from now on, as I recall.  Mostly for the sake of my fingers, which don’t seem to be able to produce “Droushnakovi” correctly on the first try.  (Not that I’m afraid of longish, foreignish names in general.  Djugashvili.  Ramachandran.  Brahmaputra.  Targaryen.  Rustaveli.  But some of them are just harder to type than others.)

Our first sight of the princess (not mentioned in Shards, I don’t think), and the young heir.  I elided most of the recap of the plot of the previous book, since I know you already know what happened there.  And boy, I think that talking robot stegosaurus would be a hot seller.  Like a dinosaur Furby…except better, one hopes, since I was never that impressed with Furby.

And also, the first time when Drou meets Koudelka, even if they don’t actually manage to talk to each other yet or anything.  There does seem to be a certain amount of interest, at least on Drou’s side.

Chapter Two

Aral is gone when Cordelia wakes up the next day, so she decides to go shopping, with Drou’s help, for something that had occurred to her watching Koudelka the day before.  Drou is waiting right outside her room, and Cordelia thinks that Drou needs a uniform or livery, since her dress doesn’t flatter her that much.  She asks Drou how she got into her line of work, and Drou said that her father and three brothers were in the military, and her brothers used to sneak her into their classes.  She was all-Barrayar women’s judo champion twice, and after that Negri approached her about a job, since Princess Kareen had been asking for female guards, and there she got some weapon training as well.

Cordelia asks Drou to accompany her on a shopping trip, and Drou struggles to hide her disappointment, until Cordelia says she’s looking for a sword-stick for Koudelka.  Drou says she knows just the place, where the Vors buy weapons for their liveried men–non-Vors are not allowed to own their own weapons.

One of Aral’s guards drives them to the shop, Drou watching the crowds alertly.  They arrive at a place called simply “Siegling’s” on a quiet street, and go inside; Cordelia notices the wood paneling in the store, which is common on Barrayar but would cost a fortune on Beta.  The clerk approaches them somewhat condescendingly, and the first sword-stick he brings out is elaborately carved and flashy.  Drou isn’t sure about the quality of the blade, though, and when Cordelia tries it out, stabbing it into the wall, she is easily able to snap it.

“Madam,” said the clerk stiffly, “I must insist the damaged merchandise be paid for.”

Cordelia, thoroughly irritated, said, “Very well. Send the bill to my husband. Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, Vorkosigan House. While you’re about it you can explain why you tried to pass off sleaze on his wife—Yeoman.” This last was a guess, based on his age and walk, but she could tell from his eyes she’d struck home.

He goes into the back to fetch them another, much heavier; the spring that releases the cane does so with some force, making it almost a weapon in its own right.  She stabs it into the wall again, but the clerk assures her she won’t be able to break it.  Sure enough, it resists her attempts, and Drou calls it “worthy”; they buy it.  The women browse the other weapons briefly, but Cordelia decides she doesn’t really want a weapon, and Drou admits that Sieglings’ are pretty, but Negri’s are better.

Aral and Koudelka return for dinner that night, having spent the day trying to convince various Counts to approve Aral for the Regency.  Cordelia unwraps the swordstick and presents it to Koudelka; he is initially a little annoyed to be given a walking stick, but once he takes it he senses there’s more to it.  He launches the cane accidentally at the window, luckily not breaking it, and is pleased by the blade.  However, he returns it, crestfallen, informing her that he can’t own weapons, not being Vor.

Vorkosigan raised an eyebrow. “May I see that, Cordelia?” He looked it over, unsheathing it more cautiously. “Hm. Am I right in guessing I paid for this?”

“Well, you will, I suppose, when the bill arrives. Although I don’t think you should pay for the one I broke. I might as well take it back, though.”

“I see.” He smiled a little. “Lieutenant Koudelka, as your commanding officer and a vassal secundus to Ezar Vorbarra, I am officially issuing you this weapon of mine, to carry in the service of the Emperor, long may he rule.” The unavoidable irony of the formal phrase tightened his mouth, but he shook off the blackness, and handed the stick back to Koudelka, who bloomed again.

“Thank you, sir!”

Cordelia just shook her head. “I don’t believe I’ll ever understand this place.”

After supper Cordelia and Aral go to read, Aral on reports from Negri and Cordelia on child-care books.  They are occasionally interrupted by loud thwacks from the library, where Koudelka is ostensibly putting the day’s notes in order.  Cordelia worries that her gift has distracted him, but Aral assures her that he’ll settle down soon enough.  Barrayar is hard on those who can’t keep up, and Aral tells her that the deformed and crippled often don’t survive long; Ensign Dubauer would have been euthanized.  Koudelka will have a difficult path ahead of him.

“What about problems like Bothari’s?”

“It depends. He was a usable madman. For the unusable . . .” he trailed off, staring at his boots.

Cordelia felt cold. “I keep thinking I’m beginning to adjust to this place. Then I go around another corner and run headlong into something like that.”

“It’s only been eighty years since Barrayar made contact with the wider galactic civilization again. It wasn’t just technology we lost, in the Time of Isolation. That we put back on again quickly, like a borrowed coat. But underneath it . . . we’re still pretty damned naked in places. In forty-four years, I’ve only begun to see how naked.”

Vortala had a couple more voters to convince, and that evening he brings them over; they disappear into the library with Aral.  Aral’s father, Count Piotr, shows up shortly thereafter, since he’ll be casting his own vote the next day as well.  Cordelia comments that at least Aral’s assured of one vote, but Piotr says that his son is getting too “radical”, and he’s lucky to get his father’s vote.  Soon the Count turns the topic to the baby, since he’s passionately interested in the continuation of his family line.

Cordelia remembers the day she’d confirmed the pregnancy and told Aral it would be a boy, out at Vorkosigan Surleau.  Aral said that the Count would be ecstatic, since he’d almost given up on Aral ever having any children, and he wouldn’t even care if their mother is a Betan.  Cordelia asked about names, and Aral said that, by tradition, the firstborn son is named after his grandfathers, so he will be Piotr Miles.  After a brief tickling match, Cordelia waved to Negri’s watchers, wondering if she should invite them to lunch, and Aral told her that they wouldn’t be allowed.

After the Count has supper, they are walking through the foyer when they hear raised voices in the library, and soon a man stalks out.  He greets the Count, and the Count greets him as “Vordarian”.

Vordarian’s lips were tight, his hands clenching in unconscious rhythm with his jaw. “Mark my words,” he ground out, “you, and I, and every other man of worth on Barrayar will live to regret tomorrow.”

Piotr pursed his lips, wariness in the crow’s-feet corners of his eyes. “My son will not betray his class, Vordarian.”

“You blind yourself.”

Aral and Vortala emerge after Vordarian leaves, Vortala saying that they can live without Vordarian’s vote.  Aral explains that Commodore Count Vidal Vordarian is of a very conservative stripe, unable to imagine any change as an improvement, and Vortala adds that he was a potential candidate for the Regency, having spent some time cultivating Princess Kareen.

Comments

The flashback scene in this chapter doesn’t quite fit, somehow.  It reads like an outtake from the previous book, in some ways, and perhaps it was, for all I know.  Except for the complete lack of mention anywhere at the end of Shards of Honour that Cordelia was pregnant, which makes me think that it was really a retcon, backfilling Cordelia’s pregnancy so that it will be on the right schedule for the events of this book.  I can’t quite convince myself that she knew, for instance, that Cordelia was pregnant in the last chapter of Shards, because in the whole discussion of whether Aral should accept the Regency, Cordelia never brings it up or even thinks about it.  The closest they come is Aral mentioning that he now has a future and something to lose.  Oh, well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve started to become more sensitized, as I reread certain series over and over, to things that are first mentioned in later books, and wondering if the author had them in mind all the time or just thought of them as he or she was writing this one.

Apart from that, the Siegling’s scene is great, and the sword-stick in general.  Vordarian (who was mentioned, at least, in Shards, as a potential Regent) also appears, with a little bit of mustache-twirling…I can’t help but picture Lucius Malfoy telling Harry Potter he might come to “the same sticky end” as his parents.  (Dun dun dun!)  At the moment he and his political views are a bit of a caricature.  I suppose you could say that Cordelia has a bit of a pro-liberal bias, especially compared to the rest of Barrayar, though I suppose on Beta Colony she might be considered a moderate, so our perception of him might be a bit skewed–I tend to notice that liberals and conservatives can’t really see each other a lot of the time except as caricatures and straw men.


I almost took a week off before starting Barrayar, mostly because I was falling behind, but luckily I managed to pull this together in the last couple of days.  Summer heat and mosquitos seems to be wreaking havoc with my sleep schedule, which combined with “work stuff” seems to be depriving me of energy to work on much in the evenings.  I anticipated this would be a challenge, though, and I’m curious to see how much I can push myself before I start to slack off.

Until next week, then, with any luck…

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